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Should you be working out when you’re sick with the cold or flu?

Should a cold or flu sideline your fitness routine? A physiotherapist tells us what symptoms shouldn’t stop you from exercising and shares signs that you should rest.



By Andrea Yu

If you have a cold or flu, it can be tempting to stick to your regular fitness schedule. But doing so can delay your recovery from illness. Whether it’s safe to exercise when you’re sick depends on your symptoms. We spoke to Sarah El Queisi, physiotherapist and owner of Physiothérapie Avantex, to learn more about it.

When is it safe to exercise with a cold or flu?

It’s okay to work out when you have light symptoms like a runny nose or a sore throat. Light nasal congestion also shouldn’t stop you from exercising. But symptoms like difficulty breathing, excessive coughing, fatigue, muscle aches and pains or fever are concerning. “Those are signs that your body is already under a lot of stress,” explains El Queisi. “Adding the stress of exercise to that would likely not be beneficial.”

Can exercise help you sweat out a cold to get better?

In some cases, exercise can actually help your illness. “Being active outside in the cold can get your nasal congestion moving,” El Queisi says. If you do decide to work out when you’re sick, tune into how you’re feeling that day. “Your body is already fighting off an infection,” she says. “It doesn’t have as many resources to power your exercise. If you’re feeling well enough to exercise, match your workouts to what you feel your capacities are.”

If I do take time off due to illness, when can I return to my routine safely?

Once more severe symptoms like a fever and muscle aches subside, you could be ready to exercise again. But again, El Queisi encourages people to listen to their bodies and how they’re feeling. “You’ll be ready to start back exercising when you feel up for it,” she says. “Check in with your symptoms. Do you have enough energy to do a workout, or do you want to do a workout?”


What tips should I keep in mind to ensure my return to exercise is safe after a break?

A break of two weeks or more necessitates a gradual return to exercise, according to El Queisi. “You can injure yourself if you get back to your normal volume too fast, too soon,” she explains. “The longer that you’ve been off, the longer it may take you to ramp back up to normal.” A more intense illness might also mean a longer easing-in time to your usual routine.

If you usually exercise every day, easing back in might look like working out every other day. Then seeing how your body responds. “Increased soreness or increased fatigue are signs that you’re overdoing it,” explains El Queisi. “Muscle soreness out of proportion to your workout is a sign you went a little too hard. If you feel very fatigued, immediately or in the days following. Those are signs that you did too much too soon.”

Easing back into workouts looks different for everyone, depending on your fitness routine. But in general, it means working out at a lower intensity or for a shorter duration. For strength training, that might mean using a lower weight or doing fewer reps, El Queisi says. “If you normally run for an hour, maybe you plan to go for 30 minutes,” she says. “Use whatever modification you feel you could successfully complete.

As tempting as it is to power through a cold or flu, El Queisi encourages the opposite. “Listen to your body,” she says. “When you’re sick is not a time to think about making gains in your training. It’s about really taking care of yourself. Cut yourself some slack, do what you feel up to and don’t force anything.”

If you’re looking for support to reach your fitness goals or recover from an injury, you can find a health-care provider on Lumino Health.

Written in consultation with Sarah El Queisi, physiotherapist.






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